Dropbox is not secure so why not try SpiderOak?

Posted: May 17, 2011 in apps, backup, iPad, iphone, iPod, Mac OSX, organization, software, technology, Windows
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

With the latest news about the not-so-secure or private status of your Dropbox information, I decided to check around for alternates that offered similar functionality without the gaping security hole.  One that comes to mind and is getting a bit of notice is SpiderOak.

At first I wasn’t sure about the name, but it made sense after a little thought.  It may not be as obvious as Dropbox, but when you think of the web and strength, spider and oak create a good image.  I quickly perused the site and set up an account. (Minimum 4 character limitations for account names really annoy me, since I prefer to just use “tcg” wherever possible but it wouldn’t let me)  Free accounts get 2GB of storage to start.  I say to start because that can change easily, but more on that later.

First impressions:  It’s a painfully slow download, but that may be in part due to server strain since I’m sure many people besides me are exploring replacements for Dropbox right now.
If you haven’t already heard about the big issue with DropBox, in a nutshell, the info they said was private and encrypted is not much of either.  Employees do have access to your info and can and will turn over your info if required to by law, or to anyone that Dropbox feels it needs to in order to protect its property rights as per its latest Terms of Service Agreement.  Gee thanks Dropbox.

Often throughout this post I will be referring to and comparing features of Dropbox, since it had become a widely known way to store, access and sync info in “the cloud”.
Getting back to SpiderOak, the EULA mentions “SpiderOak cannot guarantee uninterrupted service” in various forms a couple of times which sends up a bit of a red-flag to me.  I’m sure its just a cover-your-ass statement, but still, sounds to me like they are expecting problems with their service.  Lets hope not too often.

the brief overview of features

a short wait while it makes your info secure

As per most installs, on a Mac at least, its a simple drag and drop into your applications folder to get you started on you way to safe and secure offsite storage.  The windows version is pretty much the same as far as the install goes as well as the GUI once installed.

One of the first things I noticed was that it does not create a folder to copy or move your info into unlike Dropbox.  It just shares the info from where it already is on your computer to the SpiderOak server.  I’m of two minds regarding this.  First, it seems like a good way to ensure you are not duplicating files on your computers unlike the way Dropbox does it, but on the other hand, it is easy to see what is shared when using Dropbox since it all ends up in the same folder.  Syncing or uploading the data to the SpideOak servers was also brutally slow.  I decided to just upload approx. 400 meg of info at first to see how it works.  That process took a lot longer than using Dropbox to upload the same info – approximately twice as long to be more precise.  Thankfully none of it is confidential info so I wasn’t worried about the Dropbox security thing. My assumption is that the encryption process that SpiderOak uses slows down the transfer, which is why Dropbox is able to transfer the files that much quicker.

While I waited for the backing up, it seemed like a good time to read thru some of the Preferences options.  In there I noticed the option for saving a copy of your info, much the way Dropbox does it, but with Dropbox it is not an option.  Score one for SpiderOak there. Another thing I noticed from the website was SpiderOak’s claim about privacy (see screenshot below)…

Score another one for SpiderOak there.  I have to wonder if they updated that recently after all the hullabaloo about Dropbox and its lack of exactly those two items.

Another similarity is the way you store and access your info.  You can add devices to your account and give them each names to make it easy to see what info is shared from what device.  You can also create additional accounts and get referrals to increase your storage space much the same way as with Dropbox.

GUI on a Mac

The refer-a-friend option on the website allows you to post on Facebook, email a link, or post on Twitter.  I’m thinking the posting on FB and Twitter option seems a bit too desperate since its just an open tweet or wall post to anyone.  Almost like a “please be my friend and share stuff with me” plead.  Instead I sent a link to myself via email and created an account, and without installing the program since I already had installed it on that windows PC using the first account I set up was given the extra 1 gb for referring a friend.  Strange but i’m not complaining.  Selecting what you want to share is basically as easy (click the preset Categories) or precise as you want.  You can use the simple method or click advanced to get a file browser which you can drill down through and select the files you want.  You can see at the bottom your total available space and the amount used.

and just like that i’ve got 3GB available

I couldn’t find a way to logout of the service and change to a different account though.  It seems once you connect a device it remembers it is associated with that account.  No problem, a simple uninstall and reinstall took care of that.  I was then able to setup a different account on that PC.  There is a difference between how you access your info.  With Dropbox you could share files a little easier and sync folders on different machines, which is why I had a different account on each device, but with SpiderOak you may want to just add the devices to your account.  Again, the program is very similar to Dropbox in most aspects.  There is a bit of a learning curve, since the interface is a bit different and at first glance seems a bit confusing, but i’m getting the hang of it.  Read the readme files – don’t just jump in and expect to know how it works.

One thing that will need to change is SpiderOak’s integration with other apps.  This is where Dropbox currently has them beat, but not by much.  QuickOffice for instance has Dropbox integration, as does the PlainText app.  Both of these will allow you to access your stored files from within the app giving you even better access and editing powers of those files. Another program with built-in integration with Dropbox is AutoCadWS, which as you may know is one of the Apps I see a huge future for when it comes to making your AutoCad files easily accessible on mobile devices.  The nice thing is that when trying to view a document that isn’t natively supported in the SpiderOak App (which is also free and works on iPods, iPhones & iPads) you can click the little blue arrow next to the file name and be presented with other options to open the file in, such as AutoCadWS, or open a word doc in QuickOffice.  Sweet.

a listing of your registered devices

opening a non-supported file downloads the file

opening options by clicking the blue arrow

IMO SpiderOak offers a secure alternative to storing files on Dropbox and once they become more well known, hopefully the much needed native integration into other apps will arrive for them too and allow me to add SpiderOak as a service into QuickOffice for instance, so instead of opening the file by browsing to it in SpiderOak and then opening QuickOffice from within it.  I know its only one extra step to do it the SpiderOak way, but hey I have to find something to complain about, and time is money.

I’m not one that likes being misled or lied to by my software and Dropbox has left a bad taste in my mouth as well as many others it seems if the blogs and news stories are any indication.  Who knows, maybe Dropbox will fix their problems, but I for one am happy to move my files to a service that is actually secure and won’t be sending my files to anyone who in their opinion makes a legal request.  Its not that I am storing anything illegal but some info could be sensitive or confidential and the thought of some Dropbox employee being able to view that info if they deem it necessary is not right.  Bu-bye Dropbox.  Hello SpiderOak.


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